Blending classical training with rock music can be tricky: lean too far in either direction and you risk coming off as pompous, or as an opportunistic dabbler out of your element. Shara Nova (formerly Worden) has spent her career getting the balance mostly right. She’s pop enough to collaborate with the Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens, theatrical enough for David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s musical Here Lies Love, with the musical chops to hold her own alongside the avant-garde experimentalist Laurie Anderson and neo-classical composer Sarah Kirkland Snider. Then there’s My Brightest Diamond, Nova’s main project and primary vehicle for her own creative impulses.
A Million and One, My Brightest Diamond’s fifth album and first since 2014, is at once a survey of the musical sounds that helped shape Nova as an artist, and a window into what’s on her mind. First single “It’s Me on the Dance Floor” finds her reveling in her solitude at the club, her voice tilting into falsetto on the refrain over a taut, compressed guitar part and drifts of gauzy synths. “Champagne” froths and fizzes, propelled by a relentless, pulsing electronic part and Nova’s steely vocals. She surrounds herself with a choir singing a stadium-ready wordless vocal part on the triumphal “Rising Star,” and layers her own voice into a dizzying soundscape of distinct parts and swirling synths on “Supernova” (a nod, perhaps, to her new last name?).
While many of the songs on A Million and One seem to stem from Nova’s own experiences, she steps outside of herself on “You Wanna See My Teeth”—and into the 2012 confrontation that left 16-year-old Trayvon Martin dead at the hands of a vigilante. She sings from Martin’s perspective with an eerie, detached air, punctuated by a scabrous guitar riff, and switches to a gruff, distorted vocal sound for the self-aggrandizing thug who killed him. It’s an uncomfortable song, as it should be. It also shows the scope of Nova’s abilities as a singer and a writer: she has a versatile voice, an impressive self-awareness about how best to use it, and a sense of drama that makes her songs—and this album—resonate in unexpected ways.